Most martial arts, including popular disciplines like Judo and Karate, have belt levels to rank their fighters typically ranging from white belt to black belt. Since MMA is a combat sport that is a mix of many martial arts disciplines, I wanted to know how rankings would work in MMA.
MMA does not have a belt ranking system. Since MMA is a combat sport and not an official martial art with a set of unified techniques tracking the knowledge and technical prowess of fighters is impractical. MMA fighters are instead categorized into two main groups: Professional and Amateur.
This article will discuss why there are no belts in MMA and how MMA fighters can be evaluated and categorized. Lastly, it will explore how fighters track their progress in absence of a belt system.
Why Are There No Belts for MMA?
There are no belts for MMA because MMA is not a fighting style. Rather, MMA is a combat sport that takes techniques from a variety of fighting traditions and disciplines and applies them under a combat sports rule set.
Fighters in MMA use many different techniques and elements of many martial arts when they fight in the cage. This can typically be categorized into striking, standing grappling, wall wrestling, and ground striking and submission grappling.
Because MMA incorporates a mix of different martial arts and is not a unified discipline, there are no traditional martial arts belt rankings for fighters. A fighter can have multiple black belts in many martial arts and fight somebody who is a high-level Muay Thai fighter with minimal background in anything with a belt ranking system.
A single belting system cannot really capture skills from both of these fighters so we have to rely on other metrics to evaluate them like fight records and professional or amateur status.
How Are MMA Fighters Categorized if There Are No Belts?
MMA fighters are grouped into weight classes and status as professional or amateur fighters. Mainstream MMA like the UFC has eight traditional weight classes ranging from flyweight to super heavyweight. Additionally, expectations for skill are higher in professional fighters versus amateur fighters.
Occasionally, fights are held in the intermediate classes. For instance, the heavyweight division is sometimes used for the heaviest MMA fighters.
There are some discrepancies in the terminologies used by different world and American organizations. However, the most widely accepted standards are those used by the UFC and Bellator.
How Do You Track Your Progress if There’s No Belt System?
It can be daunting to track your progress in MMA due to the absence of a belt system. However, some things can help you gauge your overall performance and growth in this sport. Like any other sport, it will take years to master the different techniques and become very good at MMA.
You can also track progress in MMA by taking part in amateur fights and competitions. You can also track your progress by evaluating yourself against your training partners and potentially just asking your coach and training partners about your skill progress.
MMA is really a combat sport and not a unified martial art in the sense that most people think about martial arts in the media or from childhood experiences with Karate or Taekwondo. It combines techniques and concepts from many fighting disciplines and places them all under a unified combat sports rule set for fighters.
It is possible to track and evaluate the skills of fighters through their fight records and their professional or amateur status. For people who are training in MMA for self-defense or just as a hobby, they can track their progress simply by competing as amateurs or just by asking their training partners and their coaches.
For more check out Are There Belt Levels in Wrestling?